End of the road for Astroland

September 7, 2008 8:45:21 PM PDT
When reports circulated over the weekend of a last-minute deal to keep Coney Island's historic Astroland amusement park open for another year, owner Carol Hill Albert was not amused. Indeed, her tone was bitter as she described plans to close the park Sunday night in lieu of any agreement with the city or with private developer Thor Equities, which have competing plans for the 3-acre Brooklyn site.

"Despite rumors to the contrary there are absolutely no negotiations going on, and there never were," said Albert, whose family has owned Astroland for more than four decades.

She said that questions about Astroland's future had created stress for its 400 employees and hampered the acquisition of spare parts for the rides and that the park would close permanently.

"We cannot risk the safety of our customers," she said.

The Cyclone roller coaster and the 150-foot-tall Wonder Wheel, a Ferris wheel, are separately owned and landmarked by the city so they are unaffected by the closing.

But the news that Sunday would be the last gasp for the Dante's Inferno fun house, 22 other rides and three arcades drew hundreds of nostalgia-minded visitors, including elderly residents of the beach area and families with children who had never ridden on the Tilt-A-Whirl or the Water Flume.

Bobby Salony said bringing his wife and their daughters from Greenwich, Conn., was a kind of "unfinished business."

"We had to come in and have one more time (at Astroland)," Salony said. "Twenty years from now they can say they were here on the last day."

On a nearby sidewalk, Amos Wengler was accompanying himself on guitar, singing a song he wrote for the occasion: "Save Coney Island, don't let them take it away, and the whole world wants it to stay."

Wengler was one of a few who said they felt there was "still hope" that Astroland would not disappear. Even if a developer takes over, "you can always make it the same again," he said.

Last fall, Astroland and Thor Equities, which owns 11 acres of seaside property that includes the amusement park, agreed to a one-year lease extension that expires Jan. 31, 2009.

Albert said on Sunday she had sought since June to negotiate an extension with Thor through 2010 but was repeatedly told the company had "no answer." She decided to close Astroland when it was clear that Thor had no intention of negotiating with her, her spokesman Joe Carella said.

Thor spokesman Stefan Friedman earlier said the firm was "extremely disappointed" that Albert had "decided to give up on the future of Coney Island" although her current lease was valid for several more months.

Newspaper reports said Astroland's rides were already being offered for sale on the Internet, with prices ranging from $95,000 for the merry-go-round to $199,000 for the bumper cars and $499,000 for the Top Spin.